OPINION: Sabres have found their new leader

Age doesn't hold back Dylan Cozens

(WGR 550) – The celebration is on!

Yes, I know, the Buffalo Sabres lost again to the New York Rangers, a bad team. Once again, they weren’t ready to play, giving up two goals in the first 2:36 on two horrendous plays showing their heads weren’t in the game. They came back and probably had double the chances as the Rangers, but couldn’t convert more than one and lost 3-2.

The narrative that this is a good team is wrong. They’re one of the worst teams in the National Hockey League.

The narrative that they’re a talented team is wrong. Players with talent don’t disappear for 20 games with zero production.

Why celebrate?

We got confirmation of something I thought long before this game started. Dylan Cozens has to be the next captain of the Sabres.

I want to stress that I know zero about what Jack Eichel’s plans are, but the Sabres will likely, once again, finish at the bottom of the NHL and have a great chance to win the NHL Draft Lottery.

Eichel expressed his displeasure last season, that he’s sick of losing. Judging by the way he plays this season and the fact that the losing is just as bad, or worse, after supposedly improving the team, I can’t see Eichel wanting to stay.

The Sabres are an extremely soft team that rarely shows any life or passion. Any hitting they do is reserved for Rasmus Ristolainen, and none of them stick up for one another. After the Sunday loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, Rasmus Dahlin pretty much begged one of his teammates to step up with a hit or a fight, and it took the youngest guy on the team to do it.

Cozens just turned 20 in early February, and with 12:49 left in a game and the Sabres trailing, he went to work. Big defenseman Ryan Lindgren and Cozens agreed to fight, and what a brawl it was.

In his first NHL fight, Cozens just kept landing solid punches. I could feel the energy right through my TV, and Kyle Okposo confirmed that surge of energy after the game.

“I think that was the most fired up we’ve been all season," Okposo said. "I wasn’t surprised, because he’s got that old school hockey in him.”

You won’t find a better leader than Okposo, so he knows what one looks like. When asked about Cozens in the postgame, the veteran was glowing about the Sabres' rookie.

“He’s a tremendous young man, and he knows how to play the game," Okposo said. "His maturity level for a 20-year-old is off the charts, and the fact that he did that just speaks to the person that he is.”

Okposo used to be a player that would be more than willing to take on the big fight or stick up for a teammate, but with his concussion problems, he no longer can chance it.

As for Cozens, he, like Dahlin, knew that somebody had to pick the team up. It’s sad it had to be the youngest player on the team, but Cozens was up to the task.

“I’ve been thinking about getting into one for a few games here, and I was just waiting for the right time," Cozens said after the loss. "We were both battling, and he asked me to go and I took the opportunity. We were down a goal in the third period, and I wanted to spark the boys a little bit.”

Read that again if you will, because there isn’t any other player on that roster that wants to do anything to spark this team. Teams know they’re in for a very easy night when they play the Sabres. They know the compete will likely be low, and they definitely won’t get hit unless Ristolainen is on the ice. Goalies know they’ll be able to see and handle most shots and, in many cases, have their easiest games of the year.

That, of course, unless Cozens is on the ice. On Buffalo’s second goal, Tobi Rieder was able to net his fourth of the season from the point, because Cozens was in Igor Shesterkin’s lap.

Not many players are ready to become a captain at age 20.

Eichel turned 22 just a few weeks after he was named captain and he definitely wasn’t ready, but Cozens just oozes leadership.

It’s not common for kids that old to be ready, but it does happen. Three examples would be Sidney Crosby at 19, Jonathan Toews at 20 and Steve Yzerman at 21. All three were more than mature enough to take over and lead their teams for many years to come.

When next October rolls around, I think it’s a no-brainer that No. 24 should be wearing the “C” and be the new face of the Sabres.

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